Is X a Y?

John K Clark (
Sun, 27 Jul 1997 13:39:16 -0700 (PDT)


On Sun, 27 Jul 1997 "Perry E. Metzger" <> Wrote:

>Several semantic debates occurred here recently. I might
>characterize these as arguments on the question "IS thing X an
>instance of set Y?",

Yes, but I wouldn't trivialize it with the label "semantic" because that's
exactly what Science is all about, showing how 2 apparently different things
are really related on a deeper level. Electric and magnetic fields seemed to
have very different properties, then in the greatest discovery of 19'th
century Physics, Faraday and Maxwell proved that there was a profound
relationship between the two and both were instances of the set Y, set Y
being Electromagnetism.

>Almost all such arguments boil down to questions of definitionalism.
>"Is the Mandelbrot set 'real'", for instance, hinges entirely on the
>question of how one defines 'repi'.

Except that nobody has a definition of reality that's worth a damn, but
that's OK, definitions are vastly overrated, we seldom use one and even less
seldom need one. Forget about "reality", I want to know if the Mandelbrot Set
is different in some very fundamental way from the Virgo Cluster. Can I put
both things in the same general category, a category that excludes neutral
electrons, square circles or integer square roots of 7? My suspicion is that
there is no very fundamental difference between a mathematical object and a
physical one, but I don't know that for a fact and if I'm wrong I'd like to
know precisely what the difference is. You're objection seems to be that
proving or disproving such things is doomed to failure, you could very well
be right, but that is yet another thing I don't know for a fact.

>The use of e-prime sometimes points out when a question has this

I'm skeptical that e-prime is an aid to clear thinking. Every human language
has "to be" in it and in every natural language it is irregular, indicating
it's in very common usage (Turkish has only one irregular verb, "to be").
If a simple mutation like dropping one word could confer the huge advantages
to the user that the advocates of e-prime claim, then some language would
probably have evolved in that direction and rapidly spread around the world.
English has rapidly spread around the world but it has "to be" and more
irregular verbs than anyone.

John K Clark

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